While listening to the Modesto City Council District 3 candidates forum I was surprised when Janice Keating reminded viewers of the Alberto Sepulveda case from 20 years ago today. I suppose it was to remind listeners of her experience on the City Council. But it reminded me of the parallels of two stories about police officers having family on the council when they made, shall we just call them mistakes.
1. It was about 6:15 am on 9/13/2000 when the Modesto Police Department (MPD) executed a Federal search warrant for Meth trafficking (no drugs were found) but that didn’t stop veteran swat team member David Hawn from pointing his gun at the boy’s back even after the 11 year old had complied and was laying face down on the floor. The Benelli 12 gauge shotgun is used by law enforcement around the world because of it’s reliability and the fact it doesn’t accidentally discharge, is the gun that Hawn was holding when it went off and killed young Alberto.
At first the MPD officers tried to blame Alberto’s 14 year old brother Moises for causing a disturbance but that was ruled out. Then they talked about how big Alberto was for his age (11) then they decided to go with the idea that the Benelli misfired causing the death. But during three subsequent investigations no matter how many times they tried they couldn’t make the shotgun misfire. MPD’s Chief Wasden and a variety of officers mostly unnamed, attempted to manufacture excuses, but after the three investigations the best they could come up with was a farce about the radio and or his knife some how snagging the trigger. The simplest explanation was that Hawn had pulled the trigger but the officials stayed as far away from that as we would expect.
Influence is sometimes helpful and this time it worked in Officer David Hawn’s favor. Now we would expect a circling of the wagons for another MPOA member but David Hawn’s brother Brad Hawn was also a Councilman on the Modesto City Council. So despite the public outcry the killing was declared an accident or excusable homicide. Modesto paid $2.55 M to the family and the Feds paid out $450,000.
We were in attendance during many of the Modesto City Council meetings back then and the first thing we learned was that when it comes to the MPD if you don’t make a complaint in writing it didn’t happen. Many people came forward saying they went to the Police station and talked to someone there who listened to their story and told them they’d get to the bottom of the issue and that there was no reason to fill out a complaint form. When questioned Chief Wasden would say time and time again I have no written complaint of that problem.
2. Sometime around August 16th Mike Warda an attorney for the Phenos, a dispensary on McHenry Ave. attempted to contact Councilpersons Kristi Ah You, Mani Grewal, Tony Madrigal and Mayor Ted Brandvold in an attempt to get some assistance. Only Ah You responded. It’s understandable why Warda didn’t try to contact former MPD officer and now Councilman Doug Ridenour Sr. since the complaint was regarding Ridenour’s son, MPD officer Doug Ridenour Jr.
The owners and landlord of Phenos complained of harassment threats and the rudeness of Doug Ridenour Jr, along with several other MPD officers. MPD Chief Carroll said it was a misunderstanding and that his officers did not engage in any misconduct, including harassment and retaliation.
Here’s the rub… if you’re a business and you make a complaint against an officer you have a potential problem. If you make a complaint against a former Modesto Police Officers Association President you might have a much bigger problem. If your dad’s a City Council member and a former police officer that is running for Mayor you might have a major issue both now and into the future.
What does it matter if your company has brought in over $250,000 in tax revenue so far this year (we have a PRR checking this) compared to having police officers chasing away your clientele both now and into the future. Now Chief Carroll knows this and is keeping his cards close to his vest forcing the dispensary to make the first move. So lets flip the narrative by introducing a wildcard.
We made a Public Record Request for Ridenour Jr’s body camera along with the body cameras of his buddies that were visiting the dispensary that day. Store surveillance won’t have the sound that the body cameras could provide.
As noted above, it was and maybe still is an ongoing problem with MPD. They discourage citizens from filing complaints, so then the Chief can deny knowledge of a problem that a citizen has complained about. Or you file a complaint and you or your business might pay the price. In Modesto justice can be expensive.